A global £34billion bidding war could threaten hundreds of North East jobs at one of the country's most ambitious mining projects.

Mining giant Anglo American, which is digging the Woodsmith fertiliser mine outside Whitby, has rejected a second revised buyout offer from BHP, and has said it is switching its long-term focus away from fertilisers - the mainstay of the Woodsmith project.

An Anglo American statement said it would "slow down development" in the whole sector, with  spending reduced to $200 million in 2025 and zero in 2026.

The Woodsmith project is currently building two deep mine shafts over a mile deep and a 37km-long tunnel to a fertiliser processing area at Wilton on Teesside. The project already employs more than 1,650 people at its sites in Whitby, Teesside and Scarborough.

Sir Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said a takeover could threaten the future of the Woodsmith  plan as BHP is already running a rival project in Canada - and now Anglo American itself has said it may rethink the whole plan.

Sir Simon said: "I know a number of constituents will be very concerned by the bad news coming out of Anglo American - so am I.

"They have set out their intention to slow down the pace of their Woodsmith Mine development dramatically. This clearly will have significant implications for the dedicated workforce, who are my number one priority here.

"I met the company last week to discuss the potential BHP Billiton takeover bid: the market suggestion has been that if BHP were to buy Anglo out, they would not proceed with the Woodsmith Mine owing to their running a rival project in Canada.

"There was however no hint on my call with Anglo of any intention on their part to change their own plans for Woodsmith and today’s news therefore comes as a very unwelcome surprise.

"I appreciate any such decision is inherently market sensitive and hence can only be released to the stock market first, but this is a major blow.

"I will seek a fresh meeting with Anglo as soon as possible and will update my constituents with all further information I am given."

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: "Anglo American has announced a significant slowdown in the development of their Woodsmith Mine. This decision will undoubtedly have serious implications for the dedicated workforce, who remain my top priority.

"There's no doubt that this development is a major setback and, at this stage, my constituents are my priority.

"I will be working with my colleague, Sir Simon Clarke MP, to seek further information from Anglo American as soon as possible and I will keep my constituents informed with any new updates."

Duncan Wanblad, Chief Executive of Anglo American, said: “We set out our clear strategic priorities earlier this year – operational excellence, portfolio simplification, and growth. Our decision to focus Anglo American’s portfolio in our world-class resource asset base in copper and premium iron ore – while retaining our crop nutrients optionality at Woodsmith – marks a major new phase.

"Of course, we are conscious of the impacts of making such far-reaching changes, particularly on our employees. We see considerable opportunities for our employees, both in delivering the full potential of Anglo American and in the businesses that we will be divesting or demerging, all of which are high quality businesses in their own right. By implementing these portfolio changes ourselves, we will be able to do so in a manner that is respectful of our employees, host communities and countries."